Wayward Southern Bar and Kitchen takes the bar part of its name seriously with three bars and 12 TVs. But it pays attention to the food part of its moniker, too, with a focus on causal Southern cuisine.
The Federal Hill space has reinvented itself from the days when it was kicking it up with country music as Cowboys & Rednecks Pub. The owners of nearby Banditos took over the bar in January and put the final touches on cosmetic upgrades in May, said Wayward's general manager Bobby Jones.
The result is an open room, divided by a few steps, with wood-paneled and white-brick walls and high-top tables surrounded by retro green enamel chairs. In warm weather, the front cargo doors open to a small patio with tables along South Charles Street.
Wayward is a good fit for a neighborhood catering to bar-hopping millennials. Over the past decade, the storefront has transitioned from intimate bistros like Vespa, Junior's Wine Bar and Taverna Corvino to its current iteration.
On our weeknight visit, '60s soul music was emanating from the sound system as bartenders doubled as servers. What impressed us most were the delicious dishes coming out of the kitchen, created under the guidance of chef Dave Trivette.
"It's good, down-home, comfort food," Jones said. "Baltimore is a big city, but it has a Southern feel to it. It's like a small town."
Scene & Decor With three bars, Wayward draws a drinking crowd, but the high-top tables scattered throughout the space — decked out in wood and white-painted brick — provide a good landing pad for its pleasing Southern food.
Appetizers Fried green tomatoes ($9) make their appearance on a lot of menus these days, but Wayward's crackling discs are fanned out on pickled green tomatoes and sprinkled with smoked crabmeat for an extra flavor pop. If you're looking for one munchie to satisfy your pre-dinner hunger, the crab corn fritters ($10) will do the trick. The small, crispy orbs are even better when dipped into the accompanying Cajun remoulade.
Entrees Carnivores, rejoice. Wayward's "Plate O Meat" ($22) is for you. Diners pick three meats and two sides to share space on an aluminum tray with a block of tender cornbread and pickled vegetables. We really liked our choices: barbecue chicken, succulent brisket and crisp-fried pork belly with a soft-flesh interior. Our sides were great, too — roasted black-eyed pea and corn succotash and smoked Gouda mac and cheese. The shrimp and grits ($17) were a hit, with a mix of smoked Gouda grits and spicy Cajun sauce supporting the jumbo shrimp. The mini wheels of fried pickled jalapenos gave the dish extra oomph.
Drinks Southern-inspired cocktails like a Kentucky mule and Sazerac are offered, as well as other mixed drinks and several fruity crush drinks. Wines by the glass and bottle and beers in cans are available. A chalkboard hanging by the middle bar lists additional brews and their alcohol content, including Guinness and Blue Point Toasted Lager on our visit.
Service Our congenial waiter, who was also mixing drinks behind the bar, was informed and outgoing.
Dessert No dessert was available on our visit, but our waiter shared that bourbon ice cream sundaes had been served over the previous weekend. Sorry we missed that.
Wayward Southern Bar and Kitchen
Backstory: The owners of Banditos in Federal Hill — Drew Dunlap and Sean White — took over the former Cowboys and Rednecks Pub when it became available in January, focusing on Southern-inspired drinks and food. Mike McDevitt is also a partner.
Signature dish: "Plate O Meat"
Where: 1117 S. Charles St., Federal Hill
Contact: 410-223-2269, waywardbk.com
Open: 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday and Sunday
Credit Cards: All major
Reservations: Accepts reservations
Bottom line: If you're craving Southern comfort food and a lively bar scene, Wayward fits the bill.